It’s a choice (Colossians 3:11-13)
Every day we are faced with choices. We have relatively insignificant decisions like what we’ll wear or eat for breakfast. We also face choices that can have a significant impact on our relationships and the state of our hearts.
How we react to things people say and do is a choice. It can feel like we have no control over how we respond because things happen quickly. Someone says something, and it hurts us or offends us, and our thoughts and feelings run away with us. But you do have a choice. Hurt feelings or offences can be like little pet cubs that we stroke and feed. However, those little pet cubs that seem to comfort us grow into lions that devour us.
We are not perfect; nobody needs to be reminded of that. However, we can expect people around us to be perfect, and we don’t make allowances for people’s faults. Paul urges the Colossians not to do this, but instead to be quick to forgive and move on.
Next time you feel offended, stop for a minute. Remember, you have a choice with how you react. If it’s a silly little thing and you can move on, then do it; if it feels like something harder to overlook, ask the Holy Spirit to help you and speak to the person involved, if possible.
Forgiving others can be challenging, but if we don’t, we are the ones bound up in chains of anger and bitterness. Jesus forgave you and gave his very life to make that possible. I don’t think we need much more motivation than that to forgive. The Holy Spirit is your helper. When he sees a willing heart to obey, he rushes in to help us to do just that.
Read this excerpt from Corrie Ten Boom, author of The Hiding Place, as she recalls forgiving a guard from the concentration camp where her sister died:
It was in a church in Munich that I saw him, a balding heavyset man in a grey overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken, moving along the rows of wooden chairs to the door at the rear.
It was 1947, and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives.
It was the truth they needed most to hear in that bitter, bombed-out land, and I gave them my favourite mental picture. Maybe because the sea is never far from a Hollander’s mind, I liked to think that that’s where forgiven sins were thrown.
“When we confess our sins,” I said, “God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever.”
The solemn faces stared back at me, not quite daring to believe. There were never questions after a talk in Germany in 1947. People stood up in silence, in silence collected their wraps, in silence left the room.
And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones.
It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights, the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor, the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were!
Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland; this man had been a guard at Ravensbrück concentration camp where we were sent.
Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: “A fine message, fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!”
And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course–how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women?
But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. It was the first time since my release that I had been face to face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.
“You mentioned Ravensbrück in your talk,” he was saying. “I was a guard in there.” No, he did not remember me.
“But since that time,” he went on, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein”–again the hand came out–”will you forgive me?”
And I stood there–I whose sins had every day to be forgiven–and could not. Betsie had died in that place–could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?
It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.
For I had to do it–I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. “If you do not forgive men their trespasses,” Jesus says, “neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”
I knew it not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality.
Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.
And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion–I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.
“Jesus, help me!” I prayed silently. “I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.”
And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
“I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!”
For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.
And having thus learned to forgive in this hardest of situations, I never again had difficulty in forgiving: I wish I could say it! I wish I could say that merciful and charitable thoughts just naturally flowed from me from then on. But they didn’t.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned at 80 years of age, it’s that I can’t store up good feelings and behavior–but only draw them fresh from God each day.
I find her testimony so helpful because if we wait for the feeling that we want to forgive someone, we never will. Let’s rather do what our Father asks us to do and rely on him to help us to do it.
So, if we choose not to hold grudges, we need to replace them with something else. We have been given new life in Jesus; our Father is the King above all kings, and we have been adopted into his family. Since this is your new identity, choose to clothe yourself with mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. That is who you are.
The reality is that we don’t always feel like these are easy choices to make, but remember, you are being transformed into the likeness of Jesus. This is not by your strength, but by just being with him and allowing him to change you and transform you.
Nadine is one of the elder’s wives at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.